ADVENTURES IN THE ATOMIC AGE: From Watts to Washington

Glenn Theodore Seaborg, Author, Eric Seaborg, With with Eric Seaborg. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-29991-0

This unpretentious memoir, published after its author's death in 1999, opens windows into both the development of nuclear science in America and the mentality of the mainstream nuclear community. Seaborg began as a smalltown boy from the Midwest. He entered the "graduate school wonderland" of nuclear chemistry at the University of California in 1934 and was doing cutting-edge research in a new element when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The element was plutonium, and that brought Seaborg in on the ground floor of the Manhattan Project. His account of the atom bomb's development indicates that he must have been a formidable classroom teacher; even readers with minimal understanding of physics will be able to follow his descriptions of the science. That the bomb was eventually used on Japan generates no serious questions or regrets, then or in hindsight. The bomb ended the war, Seaborg argues, and it saved lives on both sides. After the war, Seaborg remained part of a developing nuclear-security community, won the Nobel Prize (in 1951), served for almost a decade as chair of the Atomic Energy Commission after being appointed by Kennedy in 1961—and never abandoned his belief that science is neutral, though he became a firm and effective advocate for peaceful applications of nuclear energy and of nuclear arms limitation. On balance, he declares himself satisfied with the uses made of his particular contributions. Cancers cured with isotopes he discovered, and electricity generated with nuclear power, outweigh the negatives. It is a simple ethic, but in no way simpleminded. Yet it would seem to merit systematic analysis at levels deeper than Seaborg chose to go. The book was completed by Seaborg fils, a freelance writer, after his father's death. 24 photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)

Forecast:This book should captivate thinking people drawn to the Pearl Harbor movie and 50th anniversary remembrance. Browsers may be put off by the sight of multiple acronyms in the text, but they can be assured that the book is engaging and readable throughout.

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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